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The team of volunteers at The Well
The team of volunteers at The Well

Encounter at The Well

Wednesday March 12 2014

“Honestly we just never know who will come through the door, or what problem they will bring us.

"I remember a few years ago now, when a man came in and put a sheet of paper down in front of me. I didn’t even know what he needed. He couldn’t speak English, but it turned out he was Slovakian. At the time, that was a new one on us! It makes for an interesting life.”

head and shoulders picture of Rhoda GilfillanRhoda Gilfillan (left) is sitting in a small office in one of Glasgow’s busy suburban tenement streets. She shares the office with Sam, a volunteer who is talking to a young Asian man in Urdu.

Rhoda is manager of The Well, a multi –cultural advice centre based in Govanhill, an area where around 62 languages are spoken. The Well is celebrating 20 years of service to the community this month, and exciting changes are in the pipeline for everyone involved.

“When we started up, the local community was very much south Asian, mainly from Pakistan.

“At the time, we were a successor to the Asian Bookshop, an old Board of Home Mission of the Church of Scotland project. When the Church asked the community what they needed, the overwhelming response was that they wanted an advice centre locally. That was when The Well was born – the name taken from John 4 and the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.

“We have seen incredible changes over the past 20 years,” says Rhoda. “Around 13 years ago the Government began a dispersion programme and moved immigrants out of the south east into towns and cities across the UK. Glasgow became home to people from all over the world, and we began dealing with people from the Middle East, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Sub Saharan Africa, The Congo, and Somalia.

“Then ten years ago, the EU borders opened and we had another influx, with lots of Eastern Europeans arriving in the area. Whereas many of the Africans spoke some English, which was helpful to us, the Eastern Europeans largely didn’t, and that caused huge issues for us at the beginning – like the man that arrived with just a sheet of paper – but we overcame the problems and now see around 900 individuals every year with around 6000 – 7000 visits. The visits are split pretty evenly between men and women and they come from every community that lives in the area.

“We have been needing more space for a while now because it’s recognised that we really do need more consulting rooms (they presently have two private rooms) and late last year we took the decision to move, so in May this year, we will be sourcing and moving into new premises.

“That’s going to be quite an exciting development for our 20th anniversary! “

But a change of venue is not the only thing that The Well has lined up to celebrate its 20 years in the heart of the city.

“We plan to have a special service of thanksgiving in Queen’s Park Church on March 23 and we have two events in the pipeline. One, on March 25, will be for women and children only and the following day, we’ve invited centre users, local councillors, our MP and our MSP, as well as Church leaders and community leaders to an Open morning, so they can see what we do. And of course we’re hoping that Samosa Sunday (like Souper Sunday but to raise funds for us) is taken up by congregations throughout Scotland! We could certainly find a use for the money.”

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This is an extract from the full feature in March’s Life and Work. Subscribe here.